The Stanford Prison Experiment – Interview with Director Kyle Alvarez

"WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU PUT GOOD PEOPLE IN AN EVIL PLACE? DOES HUMANITY WIN OVER EVIL, OR DOES EVIL TRIUMPH? THESE ARE SOME OF THE QUESTIONS WE POSED IN THIS DRAMATIC SIMULATION OF PRISON LIFE CONDUCTED IN 1971 AT STANFORD UNIVERSITY."  From TSPE website.

Click through for our interview with Director Kyle Alvarez.

The 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment done by Dr. Philip Zimbardo forever changed the way in which we look at incarceration and it's impact on the inmates, the guards, and society as a whole.  Director Kyle Alvarez has taken an amazing cast of some of the finest young actors in film today and given us a realistic recreation of the infamous experiment.  I got to talk with Kyle about tackling this subject, getting to work with this amazing cast and much more in a phone interview this past week.  Kyle and I had met previously at the 2013 Dallas International Film Festival where his previous film C.O.G. was screened.  C.O.G is a witty and well-made adaptation of David Sedaris' auto-biographical short story from his book of collected essays, Naked.  Kyle and I started our phone chat this past week by discussing how he's made such a drastic leap from Sedaris to The Stanford Prison Experiment.

The subject itself has been discussed, dissected and covered previously by documentaries and even books by Dr. Zimbardo himself.  But this specific film dives even deeper into the emotional tole this experiment had on it's participants and Zimbardo and his team.  I asked Kyle what makes his version new and fresh as well as being spot on with it's retelling of this famous experiment.

Cinematographer Jas Shelton with Kyle Alvarez.  Photo By Steve Dietl. IFC Films.

Jas Shelton with Kyle Alvarez on TSPE Photo By Steve Dietl IFC Films

The film's real quality is in the way we get to see the actors up close and personal.  The original tapes of the experiment are all from a distance, and minus post-interviews the information is only seen from that separated perspective.  I asked Kyle about working with his DP Jas Shelton about capturing the real emotion in each character, especially the usage of extreme closeups on the actors.

The film's cast is one of the best showcases of young actors in the film world.  These two clips highlight the many talented actors that took part in this project.  First up a look at the guards.

Michael Angarano really shines as the guard Christopher Archer aka "John Wayne".  This next clip showcases the nickname's origin as well as highlights a majority of the prisoners.

The cast is wonderfully rounded out with it's Dr. Zimbardo played by a captivating Billy Crudup.  Nelsan Ellis (Jesse Fletcher) is an especially intriguing character as he is an old friend of Dr. Zimbardo who served time.  His journey in the film is one of the most unique and the character has a fascinating change of emotion by the end of the experiment.  Kyle explained that it was the chance to work with this incredible cast that was his main motivation to direct the film.

Michael Angarano (Christopher Archer), Ki Hong Lee (Gavin Lee/3401), Brett Davern (Hubbie Whitlow/7258), Tye Sheridan (Peter Mitchell/819), Johnny Simmons (Jeff Jansen/1037), Ezra Miller (Daniel Culp/8612), and Chris Sheffield (Tom Thompson/2093) in Kyle Alvarez’s THE STANFORD PRISON EXPERIMENT. Courtesy of Steve Dietl. Copyright STANFORD PRISON, LLC.  An IFC Films Release.

Michael Angarano Ki Hong Lee Brett Davern Tye Sheridan Johnny Simmons Ezra Miller and Chris Sheffeld on TSPE Photo By Steve Dietl for IFC Films

But even amongst this amazing cast of gents there was also one stand out female performance.  The character of Dr. Christina Maslach, eventual real life wife of Dr. Zimbardo, is literally the concise of the film and the one character that asks why.  I asked Kyle about the amazing performance by Olivia Thirlby.

Kyle talked about the overall relevance of this subject matter being looked at again with the IFC Films release.

And my final question was whether Kyle would like to be a guard or a prisoner and he nicely turned the question around to, "What type of Guard or Prisoner you'd be".

Don't miss out on one of the most intriguing and captivating films of 2015.  It's a gripping and honest look at the 1971 case and one of the best casts of young actors ever assembled.  For Dallas folks the film opens this Friday at LOOK Cinemas in Addison.  And for more information on the film please go, here.

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